College Pioneers

Among the guests at the dedication of the Robert E. Hansen Hall at East Central College Thursday evening was Dr. Don Shook, left, the first president of ECC. Bob Hansen displayed the pin “ECC Yes!” that was used in the campaign to promote passage of a $7.8 million building bond issue in 1996. Hansen co-chaired a citizen committee in that successful campaign. Dr. Shook now lives in Kansas City. He served at three community colleges as their first president. Missourian Photo.

East Central College and the city of Union are remembering a man many describe as one of their great champions.

Robert E. “Bob” Hansen, 89, passed away Monday after being hospitalized since Friday. 

Hansen helped launch ECC and was elected to its original board of trustees, a position he served in from 1968 until 1996, making him the longest-serving board member in the school’s history.

In 2014, ECC named Hansen Hall after him, which Hansen later called “probably the biggest thrill of my life.”

Hansen didn’t enjoy public speaking, but he made an exception for the Hansen Hall dedication, ECC President Dr. Jon Bauer recalled. Hansen pulled a button from a tax issue years earlier reading “ECC Yes!” from a box where he kept special mementos and wore it at the ceremony.

“And that’s what he was all about, ... to advocate for the college and encourage others to do the same.” Bauer said. “I think that was one of his gifts. He just had that ability. People enjoyed being in his company, following his example and wanting to follow his lead to make the community better.”

Bauer called Hansen “a remarkable individual” whose leadership was crucial at the college’s founding.

“He’s one of a kind and someone to whom the college is very important,” Bauer said Monday.

Early life

Hansen was born Aug. 2, 1931, the third son of Herman F. and Rosie Hansen. One of his brothers did not live past infancy.

A 1949 graduate of Union High School, Hansen attended Drury University for a year before transferring to the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

While in college, Hansen was drafted into the Army, where he served at Fort Leonard Wood as a record-keeper in the personnel division.

Hansen was discharged as a sergeant after two years and returned to Drury, where he graduated with a degree in economics. After graduation, Hansen was hired as a public relations and recruitment member for the university’s president.

The job at Drury helped Hansen land a job with Ford Motor Co., according to previous Missourian reporting. Ernest Breech, then Ford’s chairman, was a Drury alumnus and worked with Hansen at a building dedication at the university.

Hansen worked in public relations for Ford in Kansas City. 

Career in Union

After two years with Ford, Hansen made the decision to return to Union to work in the family business, Hansen Franklin County Land Title & Abstract Co., after his father’s death in 1962.

Hansen worked with his brother, Charles, until Charles died in 1995. Charles was the attorney who searched the titles at the courthouse to make sure they were getting them free and clear. Bob said he was the closer, who worked a lot more with the people to purchase or sell. 

Hansen also had another partnership from 1963 to 1984 with Tony Schroeder. They owned a business called Hansen-Schroeder Realtors.

In 2015, Hansen sold Hansen Title to local attorneys Jon Downard, Justin Head and Matt Schroeder, the son of Hansen’s former business partner Tony Schroeder. 

“I’ve known Bob all my life. I would say he was part of my family,”  said Matt Schroeder, Union’s city attorney. “I think his time and his treasure were focused on Union, Franklin County and the surrounding communities. There was really no better guy for the surrounding area for his time.”

After the sale, Hansen recalled that selling the business was necessary because he was aging and had no heirs, adding he had a “very pleasant relationship” with the law firm that purchased it. Hansen continued to report to work but not as early.

Longtime friends of Hansen, Elaine and Judge Larry Davis, shared fond memories of attending Christmas Eve parties at Hansen’s home, admiring his art collection and enjoying his company. 

“He was just a prince of a fellow,” Elaine Davis said. “He was always looking out for the other guy. It was never about him. He was forever doing things for the community.”

Larry Davis first met Hansen almost 56 years ago when both joined the Jaycees organization. The two enjoyed going to University of Missouri-Columbia football games and Union dances together and discussing current events. Davis said he remembers Hansen as incredibly active behind the scenes, doing “so much more than most people, and people didn’t even know about it.”

Along with his work with ECC, Hansen led committees that spearheaded Franklin County’s 150th anniversary celebration in 1968 and the U.S. bicentennial celebration in 1976.

“That included parades and parties and a review, where all the surrounding communities had skits and things like that,” Schroeder said of the bicentennial celebration. “He was quite an artist and an organizer.”

Alvera Heeger was a member of the bicentennial committee, the ECC Foundation and the Union Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as what’s now the Union Development Corp. board, with Hansen.

“He was one of those rare gems you come across once in a while,” she said. “I think he was a true visionary. He was a leader. There are many things that happened to Union that are because of him.”

They also worked together at Zion United Church of Christ, where Hansen was a lifelong member. The Davises said the steeple of the church will be a visible reminder of their friend, as he purchased it several years earlier.

“He would celebrate any good news and share your sorrow as well,” Heeger said. “One of those rare human beings. I’m thankful I was able to share a friendship with him through my life.”

Commitment to ECC

Several friends mentioned Hansen’s decadeslong commitment to ECC as being principle to who he was.

“He was instrumental, I mean instrumental, in starting ECC here in Union,” Elaine Davis said. “He loved Union and all of Franklin County.”

Schroeder said Hansen’s work with ECC was fundamental for the area.

“He just wanted the community to have a resource to educate the youth,” he said. “High school is great, but he saw the future where that extra couple years was going to help. It gave a lot of students the fundamentals to go on to bigger and better things. A lot of professionals around here got their start at East Central and went on to get their law degrees and doctorates and all that kind of stuff.”

Hansen recalled the formation of ECC in a 2017 interview with The Missourian.

“Just down deep I knew that education would mean a lot for the area,” he said. “For people to have available education after high school is very important. I just felt very strongly about that, and I still do. I’m still very proud to have been a part of that formation.”

During Hansen’s time on the board, he helped choose ECC’s first president, find the best location for the community college and raise money to build the first buildings.

“The biggest hot-button issue was the location of the college,” Hansen said. “Everyone wanted it in their town.”

The board decided on Union because it was more central for the entire student body. After the location was decided, the board passed a bond issue and bought the land to begin building.

Hansen was involved with ECC nearly until his death, taking part in the ECC Foundation’s Patrons of the Arts event Thursday.

“I’m glad that when I think about the last conversation I had with him, he was in his element,” Bauer said Tuesday. “He was out with friends; he was enjoying music. He was supporting the college. All of the things that he loved, you know, really were just embodied in that evening.”

Hansen won many awards, including the Community Service Award from Mercy Hospital, the Union Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award in 1975 and the Union Chamber Long Haul Award in 1997, which is given to members of the community who are over 65 and who have supported the city.

He also won the Union Jaycees Award and then was one of four to win the same award for the state of Missouri.

Hansen also was appointed to the Missouri Council of the Arts and served on the United Bank of Union board of directors and the Franklin County Historical Society. He also opened an art gallery in Union with his friend Lee Young.

Funeral arrangements for Hansen are scheduled for Friday, June 25. Services will be held at 2 p.m. at the Zion United Church of Christ in Union. His family is being served by Oltmann Funeral Home, Union. 

 

Reporters Elena Cruz and Laura Miserez contributed to this story.